Four Ways Dwana Smallwood Inspired Us

When alumna Dwana Smallwood, acclaimed dancer, teacher and arts advocate, visited campus during spring semester, she commanded the undivided attention of a full house in Agnes de Mille theatre as she spoke about her journey as an artist and innovator. 

1. Feeling young.
Forget the alumni and guest artists who lament how many years have passed since their UNCSA graduation. School of Dance alumna Dwana Smallwood says that returning to campus makes her feel young. And her vibrant energy and obvious tenacity is electrifying. What is one of her fondest memories from UNCSA? Her mother surprised her by traveling to attend her senior project, which was created about her and dedicated to her.

2. Making it happen.
When sharing the journey to her audition for the summer program at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (she wore a leotard borrowed from the UNCSA Dance Costume Shop), Smallwood advised students to create their own personal story and then find a company that aligns with it. She scored a spot in the summer program and later spent more than ten years as a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey.

Dwana with Alvin Ailey

Dwana Smallwood, center, performing with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Photo: AAADT

3. If not this, something better.
At the height of her dance fame, Smallwood left the stage behind. In 2009 she embarked on a new adventure on a new continent, creating a dance program at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. She stayed for four years, eventually becoming Director of Student Affairs. 

In 2013 she returned to her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, with a new dream: opening a performing arts center in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center opened in 2015 with a mission to use the arts, primarily dance, as a means to empower youth within New York’s inner city communities.

4. Still writing her story.
As Smallwood reflected on the challenges and successes of her career, she shared four truths that continue to guide her many pursuits:

  • Waste no talents.
  • Don’t be afraid to dream.
  • Respect the order of things.
  • Don’t forget your worth.

by Hannah Callaway

July 12, 2016